Sunday, April 25, 2021

We Are...


This message was inspired by the Ysaye Barnwell song, “We Are”

Shared on April 25, 2021 via Zoom to the UU Congregations in Brunswick and Statesboro, GA

I picked out these songs that I’ve been using from Singing the Journey for my sacred text – mainly because I liked the songs.  And this is a good one. And when I made out my schedule –I also placed a topic in parentheses by the song title – that summed up what I thought I would share.  By this one, I put “Identity.”  And as I started preparing for it, it occurred to me that I may have done a sermon on Identity before.  So, I looked on my sermon page – and sure enough, back in February of 2015, I shared with both congregations a message entitled, “Who Goes There:  An Exploration of Identity.”  I didn’t have a text for that sermon because I was trying to be more extemporaneous and let my PowerPoint images guide me as I shared.  And I no longer even had the PowerPoint – having all my files corrupted in a changeover of computers.  BUT this was after Costya started videoing my sermons in Statesboro, so I had the video to watch.  And I discovered that it was a really good sermon!  I was drawing from my knowledge of various theories that I used to teach about when I taught a class called “Human Growth and Development” at Georgia Southern.  And I shared all the stages and steps related to identity formation provided by the expert psychologists, sociologists, and all the other ologists.  So perhaps I was teaching more than preaching, but I ended up with some inspirational and spiritual stuff that made it sermon -like.   So, I thought, “You know – I could just show them this video tape.”  A lot of you were not here in 2015 – and the others –may be like me and not remember things you read or heard yesterday – much less, six year ago.  But then I decided to challenge myself to try to prepare something from a different perspective – maybe with less book learning stuff.  If you ARE interested in the other sermon though, I encourage you to just google revjanepage and Who Goes There?  It will pop up. 

Since I wasn’t going to use science as a resource, I decided to use YOU as a source – so I asked folks on Facebook to respond to the question, “Who Are You?” in two sentences or less but not answer with your name.   I got some interesting responses. 

Most of the responses included various roles you were in – including mother, father, grandmother, professor, veteran, student, friend, and spouse.  Some included other categories of identity such as female, heterosexual, Christian, Buddhist, Taurus, black Irish, and English.  And many of you included personal characteristics like healthy, happy, spiritual, sarcastic, and loving, (some specifying WHAT they loved like animals, nature, poetry, friends, sunshine, and ME).

Tanya Carden shared that every time I asked that question (meaning she DID remember the sermon from six years ago), she thought of Tolkien’s character, Tom Bombadil.  And Tanya gave me permission to use her name in sharing this.

" 'Who are you, Maser' [Frodo] asked.

" 'Eh, what?' said Tom, sitting up, and his eyes glinting in the gloom. 'Don't you know my name yet? That's the only answer. Tell me, who are you, alone, yourself and nameless?'"


I am one small thread in the tapestry of life, less vibrant than many, less entangled than some, yet still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.


And I thought – well, that’s my sermon.  I’ll just pull this from Tolkien and go from there. So, I tried to find the entire quote – and I found the first part where Tom responds to Frodo.  But I couldn’t find that last part about the tapestry of life.  I put the quote in google – and that usually works – but nothing came up.  So, I went to the passage where Tom was responding to Frodo to see if it was after that – and it was not.  So, I thought – well, maybe Tanya was doing that from memory, and she misremembered what it said.  I messaged her to ask for her help in pointing me to where I could find that passage and whether it was Frodo who said it.  And she responded, “Oh, that was all me.” I should have known – because there were no quotation marks around it.

So, our prophet is not Tolkien – it’s Tanya!

Let me read that prophetic quote from Tanya again: 

“I am one small thread in the tapestry of life, less vibrant than many, less entangled than some, yet still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.”


Now, of course, Tanya’s not the first person in the world to talk of the tapestry of life.  Others have used this metaphor in slightly different ways.

The poet Maya Angelou said:

“We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.

And Marilyn S. Bateman wrote:

“On a clear day we can see forever and ever.  We know where we came from and why we are here on earth and where we ultimately are going. The threads woven into the fabric of our lives are beginning to create a beautiful tapestry.”

Rainer Maria Rilke wrote:

“Destiny itself is like a wonderful wide tapestry in which every thread is guided by an unspeakable tender hand, placed beside another thread and held and carried by a hundred others.”

And there are many others – all good – and perhaps all worthy of other sermons.  But Tanya’s was different in that it especially showed the significance of each thread in the tapestry and the metaphor used each thread as an individual’s life in the bigger tapestry of life.  Most importantly, Tanya points out that her thread – though it may be less vibrant than some, though less entangled than some – was still VITAL to the part of the picture woven around her.

So, who is Tanya?  She’s a VITAL part of the tapestry of life.  It would not be the same without her.  And the same is true of you and me.

At Christmas time, I always love to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life.”  The film stars James Stewart as George Bailey, a man who has given up his personal dreams, in order to help others in his community.  But he feels like a failure because of the failure of the savings and loan company and the money that is owed.  His imminent suicide on Christmas Eve brings about the intervention of his guardian angel, Clarence. Clarence shows George how he, George, has touched the lives of others and how different life would be for his wife Mary and his community of Bedford Falls if he had not been born.  I love this film because it demonstrates that we all make a difference – for better or worse – we change the world. 

President Biden recently shared how George Floyd’s little girl said, “My daddy changed the world.”  And indeed, he did.  As did the young teenager who videoed his death, and the police officers who were finally able to cross that blue line and share with the jury that this action in opposition to their training and good policing.  For once, there was some accountability.  And there were many individuals who made a difference – including those who took to the streets last summer, even during a pandemic, to say – we will not be silent about this.  We demand accountability. We demand justice.  Everybody working together made a difference.  It took every thread – some more vibrant than others – but every thread mattered.  Every thread was a vital part of this piece of the tapestry of life. 

Tanya’s quote includes the words, “still vital to the part of the picture woven around me.” What are the pictures that include your thread?  Family, work, friendship, your congregation?  You may not have a statue erected to commemorate your life – and even if you did – it my come down some day, as some should.  But these parts of the picture are different because you are there – and here. 

I spent most of my teaching career at Georgia Southern.  And when I stepped down as Department Chair to focus more on preparing for ministry, the dean tried to get the Department to buy one of those bricks in the little garden area by the College of Education in my honor.  I told them not to do it, that I didn’t need a brick.  It became kind of a joke – and when we had our little departmental party at the end of the year, they presented me with a real brick that had this written on it with magic marker.  Jane Page wuz (spell out) here.  And we laughed – and I kept it in my office till I retired in 2005.  Then I thought – what should I do with this brick?  So, I took it to the women’s bathroom on the second floor and put it there on the counter by the sink. I think it’s still there.  One day, someone will be cleaning up who never heard of me and throw it away – and that is okay.  Because if you’ve spent any time at Georgia Southern as a student, faculty, or staff member – you have made a difference in that part of the picture of the big tapestry of life.

In some of our communities or “pictures in the tapestry,” we may have good intentions, but our thread and the direction that we take it may have a negative impact for others, and we need to evaluate that impact and move in a different direction.  When I was part of the Meadville Lombard Theological School Community (perhaps still wearing my Professor hat), I criticized a book in class which perhaps prompted other students to continue in a very  negative direction – including our instructor – and then found out that what we had done had been extremely painful for one among us.  We took a break, and I immediately went to this friend and said, “I’m so sorry. You know my heart.  I would never have intended to hurt you.”  And we hugged.  But I later came to understand that I needed to look at the impact of my actions, not just my intent, and I did and worked hard to change myself and the culture of that community (which like most of our institutions was still deeply flawed by systemic racism and white supremacy culture).  For better or worse, in that community, what I was doing was making a difference.

And the same is true of your presence in these congregations.  Now some have many visible threads over a substantial period of time.  We’ve had several folks in the last year or so who have needed to step back from leadership roles, and we are so appreciative of their service and their continued presence among us.  They have made a big difference.  And new folks coming in are stepping up to fill these leadership roles and move us forward.  Others may not be able to lead – but their very support and presence in our mission is VITAL – to quote Tanya once more.  VITAL.  We need all of you. 

I think Barnwell’s song does a good job of sharing who we are as Unitarian Universalists.  She says:

We are mothers of courage and fathers of time,
we are daughters of dust and the sons of great visions,
we’re sisters of mercy and brothers of love,
we are lovers of life and the builders of nations,
we’re seekers of truth and keepers of faith,
we are makers of peace and the wisdom of ages.

We are our grandmothers’ prayers
and we are our grandfathers’ dreamings,
we are the breath of our ancestors,
we are the spirit of God.

Regardless of your theology – we are the breath and spirit of all that we proclaim as holy and sacred in this Tapestry of Life.

My challenge to you today is for you to consider how you might contribute to this part of the tapestry of life.  We have lots of opportunities for your thread to be woven into our UU picture.  And we will be grateful.  I’m SO grateful that I’m going to sing you a song of gratitude to end this message.

Oh, we give thanks

For each precious soul

Threads red, green, blue, brown, purple, and gold!

For the very young - to the very old

Oh, we give thanks

For each precious soul.


Amen and Blessed Be!

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Resurrecting Joy - A Message for Easter 2021


Three days ago, it was Maundy Thursday on the Christian Calendar.  It was also April Fools day.  And that morning, I was in a good mood.  You see I had set aside time that morning to finally put this sermon on” Resurrecting Joy” together.  I had been working on it by placing good quotes and articles, etc. in a folder on my desktop, but that morning was the time for more analysis and composition.  And that brings me JOY – especially when the topic was JOY.  As I was getting started, I got a message on my phone from someone saying they had forgotten the password for our UU Statesboro directory.  I didn’t recognize the phone number so said – “Who is this?”  I got a response with a name of one of our Statesboro members who has been doing a lot of good work.  But I did have enough sense – I thought – to make sure it was him by asking sort of a “security question.”  And I messaged, just to be safe – tell me what committee you are on.  And he responded with the correct committee.  SO – I gave him the password – and even created a contact in my phone with his name and this new number he was using.  A little later he messaged back that he had a friend he was trying to help, and he was having problems with his cash app – and wondered if I could use mine to send his friend the money, then he would pay me back.  Dang – this was a scam.  I said, “Call me.”  He responded – “Can’t call now – I’m at the bank trying to get this thing straight.  It’s urgent that he get this right away, and I can send you his Cash App and I can send you his cashapp name.” Then later he did call with music playing, then hung up.  I called back and he answered – and of course it was not the voice of our member and he hung up.  So I spent the  -rest of the morning working to change passwords (knowing that he had probably already printed out our entire directory). And, of course, I tried to contact our UUFS folks via email, Facebook, and constant contact to share with them how I had messed up and that they would probably be getting an email from someone pretending to be me.  And, indeed, many did.  Thankfully – I think I was the only April Fool that day!

 In any case – all of that just sapped away my JOY – and I was not in a joyful mood anymore. Isn’t that the way that it seems to have been going for many of us?  We sometimes feel like we are climbing back up and that everything is going to be fine – then we are ZAPPED with something that drains our joy.  And I needed to try to resurrect some Joy for this Easter sermon.

Folks, when we had Easter online in 2020 – very few thought we’d be here in 2021.  But here we are again.  It’s been a really tough year in so many ways.    All of us have been through a lot – some more than others. It’s a very anxious time regarding our future for many reasons – not all related to the pandemic.   Here’s what one of my colleagues, Rev. Kevin Carson, said about this:

 In uncertain times, when there is a need to fight for justice, and to defend the most vulnerable in society, to deny feelings of fear and anxiety would be insincere. It is hard to become what Rev. William Barber calls the “moral defibrillators of our time,” to shock the heart of America back into a healthy rhythm, unless you first acknowledge that America’s heart is in trouble.

So, in many of my sermons this past year, I’ve lifted up lots of concerns and worries and encouraged us to be there for one another in these difficult times.

Like many of you, I suspect, my uncertainty about our future has tempered the joy I typically feel around the Springtime and Easter.  But folks, it IS Spring and a glorious one here in southeast Georgia!  And it is Easter!  So today – I’m going to attempt to help myself and help you resurrect some JOY in our lives.  Now I know that many of you have found ways to focus on those things that bring you Joy. I asked folks in our two Facebook groups to share in 7 words or less what brings them Joy – and got lots of good responses.  I also found out that some of our folks can’t count to seven – or maybe as UUs, we don’t want our ministers to put any limitations on us! 

Of the 24 responses I received by 11 am Friday, eight of them mentioned children – their own or grandchildren – or other children.  For many children and activities with them bring joy.  I recognize that from recently keeping my two great-grandchildren for a few days.  It was very joyful and very exhausting.  Sometimes, joy can wear you out. Others expanded that joy to other family members – including their fur babies!

The second thing I noticed that brought our folks joy was connecting with nature.

Watching the sun rise, a freshly sprouted garden, time on the beach, watching hummingbirds, feeling a cool breeze, sunshine and leafy green shade, dancing in the rain, and walking in the woods.

Some mentioned other actions that brought joy.  Helping others, playing a musical instrument, completion of an anthem for our online services, manual labor, laughing, listening to music, the creative process of painting or other artwork, and observing others joys and successes.

All of these relate to connecting – don’t they?  And one person even brought it home to the joy of connecting with his own mind and body and reasoning. 

 I’m glad that folks have found some joy during this pandemic.

Sadly, there are folks who might try to diminish our joy.  Rev. Erika Hewitt wrote about a tweet by Roger Cooper that asked, “Could we, without relentlessly criticizing, let people have their pumpkin spice, and avacado toast, and their fandoms, and their D&D, and their too-early-Halloween-decorations, and whatever little harmless things in which they’ve manage to find a tiny, shriveled flower of joy?”


Erika went on to say, “To date, more than 332,400 people have liked this tweet. I did. I'm in favor of allowing people their ‘tiny, shriveled flower of joy’—what I imagine as small hearth fires that we each build to keep our spirits warm in a cold world. Surprise: it didn’t take long for the Twitterverse to pile on Mr. Cooper for spelling “avocado” wrong. He patiently thanked his critics for ‘helping me to know that I’ve made a mistake,’ declining to point out the irony in his suffering the very type of relentless criticism whose moratorium he’d been pleading for. (His follow-up tweet: ‘We’re all just trying to survive.’)”


Although some folks seem to make it their goal to sit in the judge’s seat on every little thing anyone says or does, we all can fall into this – especially on social media – when someone makes a mistake or something.  And I see folks saying how they cringe when someone uses the wrong “there” in a sentence.  Really?  Now sometimes we do need to point out an error or a problem, but I’m trying to do more “calling in” by sending private messages or calling folks on the phone rather than jump on that horrible bandwagon of calling them out in a way that embarrasses them or puts them on the defense. 


And as I get older – I just don’t let a lot of stuff bother me so much.  I try to make room for that Joy.  I walked over to see my Mama the other day – and noticed that her yard was covered with that weed that has those tiny little yellow flowers growing close to the ground.  I looked it up and I believe it may be Oxalis.  In any case, I realized that this weed had destroyed my mom’s lawn.  But then I thought – “but isn’t it pretty.”  And I tried to help Mama find the joy in them as well.  Life is too short to be bothered by the things that just aren’t that important. 

The author EB White knew how to look for the joy.  According to one source, “White and his family came to live full-time at their farmhouse on the coast of Maine.  By all accounts he loved his life on the farm, relishing the delight… of the natural world that surrounded him.  In fact, he once stopped in his barn, captivated, watching a spider spinning her egg sac.  That spider eventually became ‘Charlotte.’”  

 White once said, “All that I hope to say in books, all that I ever hope to say, is that I love the world.” And here’s another quote from White that I can identify with….

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

 On most days, I try to do a little of both. And I agree with the Prophet’s words we heard in our reading, that joy and sorrow go hand in hand.   But on this Easter morn, I want to focus on JOY for bit!

 We would all like to be more happy and joyful!  Can we do anything about it?  Aren’t we just supposed to be “surprised by joy?”  It does often surprise us – but we can live our lives in ways that we are ready to receive it. Another of my colleagues, the Rev. Matt Alspaugh, recommended Martin Seligman’s book, “Authentic Happiness” to help us find our way. And Matt’s ideas about this were helpful, so I’m incorporating them as well.

 In this book, Seligman (a founder of the Positive Psychology movement), suggests that there are several pathways to having a more joyful life.

 The first path is “A pleasant life.”  Seligman says that we should consciously choose activities that bring us pleasure and seek to do more of those.  Now as we saw in the responses that I shared from my little Facebook survey - for some of us, that’s singing or dancing.  For others, it’s reading or playing games.  And yes, for some of us, it’s work.

 The Dalai Lama says,“We create most of our suffering, so it should be logical that we also have the ability to create more joy. It simply depends on the attitudes, the perspectives, and the reactions we bring to situations and to our relationships with other people. When it comes to personal happiness there is a lot that we as individuals can do.”

But – you say – there’s no time for doing those things.  Well, we MAKE time for doing some things that aren’t so pleasurable.  For example, we schedule dentist appointments.  So, we can also schedule these happy moments.  My happy time when I’m on St. Simons is walking on the beach.  I check the tide chart – and schedule my work around the low tide – so that I can take my walk when I can get on the beach right around the corner from my condo.  Yeah, it’s a tough life.  And in Statesboro, I have beautiful places to walk as well that I schedule around the time of day when it’s not too hot.  And the planning for those joyful times – whether a full- fledged vacation or a good homemade supper with a loved one, can be wonderful as well – you know – Anticipation of those pleasant life possibilities. 

The second pathway to happiness is to seek what Seligman calls” the good life.” In this life, we seek to identify what he calls our signature strengths and engage those to obtain gratification. Signature strengths are those qualities, activities, virtues that you are both good at and passionate about.

The essence is: seek to do what you love. You typically know when you’re doing what you love, because you get completely immersed in it, maybe even losing track of time. You’re in the flow.

I’m not good at putting puzzles together.  My mom always thought puzzles were a waste of time, because once you finished it – it was just going to be torn up again.  But I really did try to join in with my cousin Aris in her joy of putting together jigsaw puzzles when we were children.   But she was so good at it.  And I was not.  Now perhaps with more practice I could get good at it, but it’s not really a strength of mine.  I do have strengths – and fortunately, I’ve found good ways to use them that help me have a good life – and I hope others as well.  So, examine your life, and see if you can do more of what you are good at – what you love, and less of what drains you. 

The third pathway to happiness is to seek what Seligman calls” the meaningful life.” In this case, we expand on the good life, so that we apply our signature strengths in service to something much larger than ourselves.

That’s why many of us become a part of a community like our congregations and serve on committees and more.  We become missionaries of a sort – because we are serving a mission that is larger than ourselves.  We are trying to repair what is broken and create a better world. 

The Dalai Lama describes what he does each morning.  “I set my intention for the day: that this day should be meaningful. Meaningful means, if possible, serve and help others. If not possible, then at least not to harm others. That’s a meaningful day.”

Like the Dalia Lama, we can attempt to have meaningful days and a meaningful life. 

These three pathways — the pleasant, the good, the meaningful life paths — are not exclusive. We can do them together. Seligman calls this living” a full life,” saying, “A full life consists in experiencing positive emotions about the past and future, savoring positive feelings from the pleasures, deriving abundant gratification from your signature strengths, and using these strengths in the service of something larger to obtain meaning.”

Yes, we’ve had a difficult year and more.  I know I have – and I’ve followed some of you knowing that you have as well. But my HOPE for our precious UU family is that we may all Resurrect some Joy on this Easter Day!